A car driven by a Tesla driver killed in a crash on Wednesday in California had the autopilot mode engaged, officials said.
A video posted to YouTube apparently showed a white truck crossing the highway in front of the Tesla Model S, which veered to the right. The truck hit the back of the Tesla, sending it crashing into a light pole and other vehicles.
The cause of the crash is still under investigation, according to officials. It has been previously reported that this was the first fatal crash involving a Tesla vehicle.
There are a few reasons why this crash was surprising. First, Tesla is one of the only carmakers to include full autonomy, which basically means semi-autonomous systems like autopilot. One of the more popular uses for autopilot is cruise control. The Tesla Model S owner in the video doesn’t sound like someone who was familiar with semi-autonomous cruise control.
Second, this car was reportedly in Autopilot mode. Sometimes self-driving systems like this can be more susceptible to human error. Though not proven, it’s possible that while the auto drove into the truck, the human driver simply didn’t notice the truck. Another car with oncoming traffic had also passed in front of the Tesla without touching its brakes.
The crash happened in front of a Tesla employee, who suffered minor injuries and was treated at the scene. There was a Tesla employee in the vehicle at the time of the crash, but he was not behind the wheel.
Tesla Motors confirmed that the driver was under the influence of drugs, but didn’t specify what type of drugs he was taking.
Tesla released a statement on Thursday, blaming the truck driver for not paying attention.
It’s critical that, every day, everyone using a car that can drive itself keeps the system engaged — even for a split second.
Sources: BBC, The Verge, Reuters, Vanity Fair